Kenwood cheerleaders

Kenwood Academy cheerleaders at Lane Stadium, 2601 W. Addison St., Saturday, Nov. 20

After a pandemic-affected season last year, the Kenwood Academy cheerleaders encouraged the Broncos to their football championship win on Saturday. But cheerleading is a sport in and of itself, and their own competitions begin soon.

"It's definitely more difficult, because we lost a lot of time just coming in and working, because the girls are athletes and it takes a lot of time over the year," said Head Coach Kenya Hayes. Bodies have to get back into condition, she said, tumbling skills have to be refined, and the squad has to learn to work together as a unit.

"Starting off after a two-year break has been difficult, but the girls are so talented," she said. "The stunts that we do, the kick-fulls and the basket, they require a lot of time and a lot of practice."

The team worked until 9 p.m. on Friday before the Kenwood-Simeon game because it's their competition season, too. They compete in the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association as well as Chicago competitions. They got third place in the city last year, but because of the pandemic, they had to submit a video recording of their routine instead of doing it live.

Hayes said preparations before competitions this year will be a battle — COVID-19 protocols are still in place, and the team has a 50-girl roster — but they'll get through it, and practices have been great so far.

Aisha Grant is a senior, team captain and stunting flyer, one of the cheerleaders tossed up in the air by her teammates. She missed the sport last year and said it's getting back to normal now.

"We're actually able to stunt and do stuff now. Last year we weren't able to," she said. "We're just able to do everything now."

She blames last year's third-place finish in part because her team wasn't able to stunt. She echoed Hayes, though, that it's taking a lot of work to get back into shape.

"We're rusty," she said. "At practice now, getting our endurance now is hard."

But she wants to continue the sport after high school and is currently applying for college cheerleading scholarships.

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